Happy Valley become the latest team to owe arrears as clubs around the Premier League look for ways to cut costs.
Two weeks ago, offside reported that Tai Po were in arrears, having last paid their players in mid-March. Today, a report has surfaced indicating that a second club, Happy Valley, have also been late in paying their players, remaining on the hook for March’s salaries.
In the cases of both clubs, the problem arises from the fact that the pandemic has had a profound and negative impact on businesses in the mainland. As both clubs are backed by mainland based sponsors, the delay in the payment of sponsorship dollars has led to cash flow problems at the clubs, which in turn, has caused both clubs to owe arrears.
It is believed that both Tai Po and Happy Valley begun stalling on payments in February. However, unlike the reigning Premier League champions, Valley started to disburse February’s salaries by mid-March.
The club’s director of football Poon Man-tik defended Valley’s major benefactor, saying that it is normal for businesses to need extra time in managing their expenditures during perilous economic times. “Our boss Chen Zhishi’s mainland funds have dried up, resulting in a small number of players who haven’t been paid,” he claimed. “Fortunately, he has guaranteed that players will be paid in due time, and he will continue supporting Happy Valley’s development.”
Poon reiterated that Valley’s plan to play out the rest of the 2019-20 season, as announced on 16 April, remains unchanged.
Tai Po still behind on payments
Following the reports of Tai Po’s arrears, the club circulated a notice to players, apologizing for the inconvenience caused and promising that all back pay would be settled between late April and early May.
Head coach and director of football, Fung Hoi-man, spoke directly with the media thereafter and tried to reassure the players, saying that “sometimes, there’s nothing you can do about a little delay.” He had promised that the club’s main sponsor, HONGDA, would fulfill their obligations and that the Greens would continue their participation in the league, upon resumption.
However, despite several players demanding answers of management, Tai Po has yet to provide a definitive response as to when salaries would be paid. Reportedly, in order to quell the anger of Dudu and Michel Lugo, the club made it a point to pay the Brazilian duo their full February salaries last month whilst other players were only paid half of what they were owed. It is believed that the club have yet to disburse any payments since and will fall behind on April’s salaries.
It is an open secret that local players are often afraid to speak out publicly when they are owed back pay because the football community is small. One such player, who continues to await payment, recently conveyed to the media that communication between clubs and players needs to be better when such problems arise.
“The club has neither given us any explanation, nor have they told us what their plans are,” said the player who asked to remain anonymous. “Salary arrears affect every player, especially those with monthly expenses.
“Right now, it’s up to the clubs to decide whether they have the desire to solve these problems. I personally believe that they do, but the question is whether they’re willing to do it as quickly as possible.
“Honestly, you never know what will happen from year to year in Hong Kong football. We’re locked in a perpetual state of ‘Tomorrow never knows’.”
Update: Tai Po have announced that honorary chairman Gary Choy will extended a personal loan to the club in order to pay outstanding salaries. Choy, who in years past was the Greens’ main benefactor, stressed that he had stepped back at the end of last season and does not participate in the day to day running of the club.
“In years past, I was the one responsible for paying salaries,” said Choy. “But this season, I’m not involved with running the club…I’m only helping because they asked for help and I wanted to do them a favour.
“After meeting with the club today, I verbally committed to lending them a seven-digit sum of money to help them pay their players and overcome difficulties.”
Chan told the media that HONGDA intends to continue supporting the club through the rest of the 2019-20 season. He also added that Michel Lugo and Ben van Meurs have left the club while Korean duo Kim Seung-yong and Kim Min-ki have indicated their willingness to stay.
Clubs make cuts in face of pandemic
Because the 2019-20 season will not restart until mid-August at the earliest, clubs have begun cutting costs with the knowledge that they will not play again for several months.
Both Pegasus and Rangers have already terminated the contracts of their foreign players, allowing those players to return to their countries of origin. Although the former have already announced their intention to sit out the remainder of the season, the latter have recently indicated that they would be open to continuing, subject to certain conditions.
“We want to continue to give young players a chance to play and develop, and also at the same time, look after their livelihoods,” said Rangers director Philip Lee. “But the burden of playing closed door matches has taken quite a toll on us financially, so I hope that the Hong Kong Football Association will to continue to fight for subsidies from the government.
“The pandemic has caused many owners to ‘take a bath’, yet the operational costs remain high. If the operational costs can be cut down to $5,000 per match, then we’ll likely carry on.”
One club who will carry on are Southern. The Aberdeeners announced that their sponsor Kwoon Chung Bus will agree to continue their sponsorship, though the club’s budget will be reduced. Players who will be retained by the club are expected to take as much as a 30 per cent pay cut.
In addition, Southern have bought out the contracts of four foreigners, including Travis Major, Gabriel Méndez, Dhiego and Ticão. The latter left a message on his personal Instagram page, confirming his departure and thanking Southern fans for their support.
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Hoje se encerra meu vínculo com este clube tão especial! Foram 2 temporadas incríveis vestindo essa camisa! Obrigado Southern District! Obrigado Hong Kong! Today my contract with this very special club ends! It was 2 incredible seasons wearing this shirt! Thank you @kc_southern_fc, thanks my teammates, thanks fans! Thank you Hong Kong!
Yuen Long nearing a decision on withdrawal
According to one credible report, Yuen Long are expected to follow Pegasus out the door.
Following the HKFA’s announcement on the 16th, president Wilson Wong begun accessing the club’s options. After deliberating, the club determined that the most pragmatic approach would be to withdraw from the current season.
Despite the fact that players are contracted until 31 May, it is believed that Wong has asked them to accept early termination. While local players have mostly agreed to this request, foreign players have reportedly refused. Additionally, Yuen Long have informed players to vacate any housing provided by the club before May.
When reached for comment, Yuen Long head coach Kenneth Kwok conceded that his club were likely to pull out. “I received word from upper management that we will not play out the rest of the reason unless we receive additional funding. I’m still waiting for them to get back to me and confirm. They’re having a meeting this week to discuss it before they publish a statement.”
Similar to Pegasus, the Tangerines currently sit near the bottom of the league. With no threat of relegation this season, and no cup matches left to play, an announcement of withdrawal appears imminent given the circumstances.
Clubs have until Thursday to notify the HKFA if they choose to withdraw without penalty.